Last Monday Vision 2020 Australia, together with Andrew Laming MP and the Hon Amanda Rishworth MP, once again hosted the Parliamentary Friends Group for Eye Health and Vision Care dinner at Parliament House in Canberra.
Even though it was a very busy night in Canberra with the leadership spill occurring, the event was a resounding success with attendees hearing about the importance of access to eye health and vision care services in the lead up to World Sight Day.
Professor Hugh Taylor took the opportunity to speak about the recently released PricewaterhouseCoopers report Value of Indigenous sight: An economic analysis, which says that with a modest investment from the Australian Government, the eyesight of more than 32,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would be saved.
Kicking off the formal part of the evening was an interactive session that saw guests don a pair of simulation glasses and try to carry out an everyday task like reading their Twitter stream or pouring a glass of water. Guests were then asked to use the low vision aids provided to help them carry out that same task and see if it was any easier.
A number of parliamentarians including Melissa Parke MP, Senator Sam Dastyari, Stephen Jones MP and Alan Griffin MP reflected on this experience and spoke about how their respective ‘conditions’ impacted their vision and how it made them feel.
Stephen Jones MP wore the cataract glasses and tried to post a photo to Instagram, which he found near impossible due to the lack of vision, and Melissa Parke MP, who had the diabetic retinopathy glasses on, talked about how she thought it would be devastating to lose her sight. Many of the guests were amazed by the simplicity and effectiveness of many of the aids, such as the liquid level sensor that beeps when your cup is full, or the Coin Buddy coin holder.
And it wasn’t just the parliamentarians who were left feeling thankful for their vision. Jaki Adams-Barton from The Fred Hollows Foundation took to Twitter after the experience saying:
Once the guests had a moment to discuss and reflect on what it might be like if they lost their sight, they heard first-hand stories from four speakers including Jaci Armstrong, who spoke about what it was like to grow up with unavoidable blindness and the feeling of independence after being paired with her Guide Dog Nancy; mother and daughter Ann Ritchens and Susan Alexander, who both have glaucoma and the difference in diagnosis, vision loss and treatment; and finally Michael Huddleston who is learning to control his diabetes in an effort save his sight.
The night ended with a touching tribute to the late Professor Brien Holden OAM, former co-Chair of Vision 2020 Australia and CEO of the Brien Holden Vision Institute. The Hon Dr Barry Jones spoke to attendees via video of Brien’s life work and how the sector has lost a great Australian.
The Parliamentary Friends Group grows stronger every year and it great to see that even on a night where there was so much turmoil in Canberra, many friends of the eye health and vision care sector still attended.